ON-DEMAND MANUFACTURING: A CONCEPT WELL ADOPTED BY USA APPAREL INDUSTRY
Amidst the rapidly changing apparel industry’s landscape, everybody keeps asking one common question: What is the future of fashion technology? USA, being the largest apparel market in the world, provides enormous opportunities for manufacturers. However, it’s an accepted truth that apparel orders are shrinking with time and that the buyers are asking for more variations which is leading the companies to lose profit due to their inability to handle so many variations. This reduced quantity per style, pushed by the changing consumer preferences, has made way for a new manufacturing model named ‘on-demand’ in USA. Team StitchWorld delves deep into this model to let its readers get more clarity about this quickly evolving theme. Below are some excerpts from our conversation with Katherine Schildmeyer, Founder, KS Apparel Design & Consulting, USA; Ram Sareen, Head-Coach & Founder and Rialyn Espinosa, Collaborator, Tukatech Inc., USA.
It’s time for reversal, a shift in apparel manufacturing which can be seen right from Asia to USA. It was in early ’80s that the shift started from USA to the Asian countries because of many relevant reasons. Now, people are spending less on clothes. They want the latest designs as well as wish to express their individualities by wearing customised dresses. So, it has become obvious that some part of fashion business will move back to USA to cater to such highly conscious consumers. But the question remains: which part is this? “It’s a fact that USA will never become another Asia in terms of apparel manufacturing, so mass production will remain in Asia. Whereas, any model or approach which produces goods, when required within
3- 4 days, will stay in the USA,” quoted Ram. This has led to the system of ‘on- demand’ which requires scalable, adjustable and flexible manufacturing processes to complete the customised packages based on real-time data which USA will definitely be able to achieve.
Opportunities push ‘on-demand’ to enlarge its footprints…
On- demand model allows apparel brands to tell the story of global warming to spread awareness which is the utmost need of today. “Now, brands do not create additional waste that feeds into the massive amount of products left unworn and unsold at the end of each year. Colours and styles can also become localised, regionalised and nationalised under this approach. If a company can understand how something sells in different areas, it can have long-term benefit for growth, design and allocation,” elaborated Katherine.
On the other hand, a company that decides to reshore mass production may risk losing the quality and efficiency of its products and has to also invest more money in reshoring. On- demand approach lets these companies experiment with the size run algorithms from a regional perspective. The problem is there’s no global industry standard for sizing and this is why the customers keep guessing their size and hope that when their clothing arrives, they will fit in. These algorithms actually help the manufacturers know if the garments they are manufacturing will fit the customers or not. “If the company grows to a larger size, it will usually have a much better understanding of the needs of each size as a result of the ondemand structure,” stated Katherine.
On- demand manufacturing can potentially be the future of the US apparel industry and there are several reasons for this The most significant being that on- demand works on ‘demand and supply’ model instead of ‘supply and demand’ concept. A company that practices the ‘demand and supply’ model shouldn’t have an over abundant inventory. Since a product isn’t produced until a customer orders it, the model allows a company to only produce when necessary. This way the manufacturers would have to deal with less inventory and the reduced downtime can help the
On-demand manufacturing can potentially be the future of the US apparel industry and there are several reasons for this. The most significant being that on-demand works on ‘demand and supply’ model instead of ‘supply and demand’ concept.
US apparel manufacturers compete with overseas competition. “So, this concept can fulfil the needs of US apparel customers because customers are receiving the products they want from apparel producers,” expressed Rialyn.
Cons of ‘on-demand’ model…
Essentially, on- demand manufacturing should save a company time and money, if they are well prepared. However, the con of this ‘demand and supply’ approach is that it requires strategic planning. This approach may only be very effective for companies that have a small selection of styles in multiple colorways. Companies that use the ‘demand and supply’ approach may not be able to have a large selection of styles because if there is ever an overflow of orders, it would be more difficult to execute without an on- hand inventory. “It is really an apparel process made for the DIY, graphic designer, or company that wants to market its talent somehow. Many Americans also use this for teams or crafting,” averred Katherine adding that, “We have a large plus market in the USA and not much in terms of on- demand for this market.”
Further, on- demand concept may not be an alternative to import even with trade wars being initiated by USA with other countries because the on- demand business model may not suit the needs of every apparel company. “It can limit the capabilities and creativity of a company. A company that is known for making around 100 different styles every season and sells to multiple retailers may not benefit from on- demand manufacturing. These manufacturers may need to have that in-stock inventory to be able to deliver large quantities of product in a short notice,” opined Ram.
Quality control in on- demand manufacturing is said to be another challenge. “I have seen issues with quality in many on- demand companies. In some cases, it is the incorrect way of sewing operation, in others, the fabric has been seen having QC issues such as dropped needle areas or needle oil stains. An even bigger issue is colour. Some on- demand companies use RGB over CYMK and this can change colour quality,” commented Katherine.
Can ‘on-demand’ be challenged by other models…?
Though the future of on- demand apparel manufacturing looks promising, there is another model emerging named ‘Purchase Activated Apparel Manufacturing’ ( PAAM). PAAM is a method that allows a person to have a clothing brand without going to design school and it is characterised by a structure in which the product is purchased before it is manufactured. “PAAM is still largely done overseas. Some manufactures do have US hubs, but are held by overseas groups. The US locations are usually doing the bulk of business with one brand, and pull in a few small productions to help start- ups,” informed Katherine.
As of now, PAAM might not give any tough competition to ‘on- demand’ model as there can be more risk and overhead involved in PAAM since the manufacturing facilities still need a certain MOQ. “This can be a risk for a smaller business that has lack of knowledge in design to develop what the customer may really want. I see it work best in a supplemental way. One of my clients is a body care company that supplies products to professional salons. They produce apparel products for the barbers to wear, instead of a standard smock. Or, my other client that buys athletic apparels to meet the needs of the consumers in this segment,” asserted Katherine emphasising that PAAM still has a long way to go to overtake the
‘on- demand’ model.
On-demand concept may not be an alternative to import even with trade wars being initiated by USA with other countries because the on-demand business model may not suit the needs of every apparel company.
Not just USA, but also the brands and manufacturers in the Asian countries are also adopting this model seeing its popularity.
The consumers’ preferences for customised clothing have made both brands and manufacturers put their hands in custom-made clothing business. Matrix Sourcing, a Pakistanbased sourcing company, has followed ‘on-demand’ concept through its own brand, named ‘Lulusar’ and Tukatech plays a key role in it.
Matrix Sourcing partnered with Tukatech back in 2005 for CAD, pattern-making, grading and marker making and over a period of time, the collaboration helped Matrix to launch its own brand with no physical inventory. “The main idea behind starting the brand was that we wanted to move towards high technologies in terms of product development, pattern development, print development and brand development,” commented Fawad Shah Gardezi, Brand Head, Lulusar, adding further that the domestic brand takes just some hours to create design instead of taking days. According to this brand, every process right from design, development to manufacturing is digitally synchronised with each other.
Incorporation of technology in product development…
The PD cycle in Lulusar starts from the single sketch which is handed over to the pattern-maker. Once the pattern is developed, the print designer adds the required prints and placements. Then, it is sent to TUKA3D software to model and fix the pattern. “Here we can see where the fabric is not falling right and observe the loose and tight areas which are all colour coded and easy to understand. And then we take it to the final stage and thereafter, we cut a final garment which is very accurate. This process has enabled Lulusar to come up with 100 styles without physical sampling,” informed Azfar Hasan, CEO, Matrix Sourcing.
Adding to what Azfar said, Nadeem Saigol, CFO & Partner, Matrix Sourcing commented that the sampling process is really a complicated process as it requires a number of sources, the availability of trims and accessories is limited and the amount of work that goes into a physical sample is enormous before one gets it right. “This is where TUKA3D plays a major role. Hundreds of measurements can be extracted from a body scan which can then be used to create a 3D avatar that is an exact replica of the fit model. An accurate virtual fit session with animation allows us to bypass physical sample making, dramatically reducing the time and cost associated with product development,” shared Nadeem.
The exact replica of the fit model and a number of body shapes that are associated with the measurements of that model further assist Lulusar to develop garments which can be termed as ‘perfect fit garments’. The industry has started learning about the importance of fit in the garments as the brands can have the most stylish and good-looking products to attract the customer, but if it does not fit the customer, he will never come back. “If it does not fit, it does not sell. So how do you check whether the fit is consistently the same? Taking measurement is not enough. It all depends how that measurement defines your shape,” added Ram. The only way to replicate the fit model is technology but the most important technical aspect is to take the body posture under consideration rather than developing patterns based on shape and measurements.
Until now, it is believed that Tech Packs and measurement sheets are enough to know the shape of a person but that’s not true. The best way to know the shape and posture is to scan that person and that’s what Lulusar and Tukatech together are doing. “Now Lulusar is copying exact information. Motion simulation feature in our software plays a big role as it asks the fit model to do a certain test i.e. squat test, which is the best way to find out the sliding of back side of bottomwear,” explained Ram.
Cloud is bolstering on-demand approach…
Speed to market and collaboration of team members are two of the important outcomes of cloud-based system in Lulusar which is helping the brand to collaborate people from outside. TUKACloud enables the pattern maker and designer of Lulusar communicate with much faster speed than any other method. “We are really a young generation and we are always on the go with our mobiles and computers. If my pattern maker is working on pattern and the designer is working on design and it needs my approval, then I can straight away approve that design or pattern irrespective of what my location is at that point of time. TUKACloud real time updates me and I can easily access my account through my phone,” shared Fawad. Once the product is approved, the team at Lulusar office can transfer the product onto the actual printed fabric and then send it for stitching. “Everybody sees the same information. They can share their comments on a common platform. So we develop everything virtually and the actual sample is made without any tweaks and it helps us eliminate a lot of undesired job in sample making,” quoted Fawad.
Future is digital too…
Lulusar believes in showing its vendors what CAD systems can do which would be an amazing leap into the future and the brand is looking forward to data that comes along all Tukatech systems. The fashion technology giant provides Lulusar with a new platform to analyse the data over the period of time as to what people’s preferences are and stretch the brand’s imagination towards what all experiments they can do with their patterns and designs. “We, as a company, are very ingrained in technology. We have our IT team, development team and we understand data very well. All this feedback comes in data form, where it can be analysed fast for our future aspects,” concluded Nadeem on an optimistic note.
Ram Sareen, Head-Coach & Founder, Tukatech Inc., USA
Rialyn Espinosa, Collaborator, Tukatech Inc., USA
Ram Sareen, Head-Coach & Founder, Tukatech Inc., USA
Katherine Schildmeyer, Founder, KS Apparel Design & Consulting, USA